After Japan’s Tsunami, a Glimmer of Hope

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

From ChildFund Japan, one of our ChildFund Alliance partners, comes a touching video about how the seaside city of Ofunato is recovering from the deadly earthquake and tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. “The Garland of Smiles,” which focuses on ChildFund’s people-centered approaches to healing and rebuilding, is nearly 22 minutes long, yet if you are interested in seeing what has happened in the aftermath of the tsunami, it’s well worth viewing.

More than 15,000 people in Japan died as a result of the disaster, and as we see in the video, numerous homes and buildings were destroyed, forcing as many as 8,000 people in Ofunato to live in temporary housing. It’s in this makeshift community where we meet ChildFund Japan project manager Yoshikazu Funato, who oversaw many initiatives to bring back some normalcy to children and adults.

ChildFund Japan, which normally assists children and families in the Philippines and Nepal, had to focus its energy inward after the disaster. With financial support from other ChildFund Alliance members, including ChildFund International, ChildFund Japan concentrated its activities in Ofunato because outside support was less available there than in other stricken areas. Beginning its work in the weeks after the earthquake and tsunami with a variety of volunteers and staff, ChildFund completed its projects in March 2013.

In preparation for the rebuilding, Funato and others conducted a door-to-door survey to see what Ofunato’s residents wanted and needed most. Some projects were small — building wooden benches in the temporary communities to promote socializing — while others were more ambitious, like providing grief counseling to preschoolers and creating a collective farm that keeps residents supplied with healthy food.

As a result of ChildFund Japan’s work throughout the past two years, some residents in temporary housing became invested in the improvements, from working at the farm to taking part in a residents’ association.

As you’ll see in the video, Ofunato has undergone a transformation in the past 24 months — not just physically but in attitude as well.

Celebrating 50 Years of African Unity and Remembering Children

By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

logo commemorating 50th anniversary of African UnionThe 50th anniversary of the Organization of Africa Unity is being celebrated this week in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.

The official anniversary on May 25 marks a significant milestone in the journey of Africans since the OAU charter was signed in 1963 by representatives of 32 governments. The aim was to promote the unity and solidarity of the African states and achieve a better life for Africa’s people. South Africa became the 53rd member in 1994, and in 2002, the OAU’s successor, the African Union, was formed.

Anniversary celebrations will draw on African narratives of the past and present, while looking to the future. The anniversary is expected to motivate and energize denizens across the African continent to accelerate a forward-looking Pan-African agenda and a 21st-century renaissance.

Against this historical backdrop, ChildFund International’s Africa regional office, Save the Children, Plan International and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children are staging a one-day conference to shine the spotlight on Africa’s children.

Today’s event, “Children’s Rights in Africa 50 Years of the OAU/AU” reflects on challenges and progress during the past five decades, while seeking even greater protection and promotion of children’s rights by leaders across Africa in the future.

Getting Parents Engaged in Their Children’s Schools

By Aydelfe M. Salvadora, ChildFund Timor-Leste

At a primary school in Timor-Leste, parents are becoming more involved in their children’s education through the Parent-Teacher Association.

Timor-Leste mother and children

Madalena Soro and three of her children, who are benefiting from renovations to their primary school.

“As a member of the PTA, I have to help so that my children will have a comfortable classroom,” says Madalena Soro, a mother of four. Two of her children are at EBC Samutaben, a primary school in the Bobonaro district, where AusAID and ChildFund Australia fund a project to promote child-friendly preschools and primary schools. Seventeen Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and 13 primary schools participate, with more than 4,000 children benefiting.

One of the program’s objectives is to strengthen schools through active PTAs. Parents and teachers are expected to understand their roles and responsibilities and how they contribute to a child-friendly school.

ChildFund is not new to Madalena; her children all benefit in different ways from projects run by our national office in Timor-Leste and Hamutuk, a local partner organization.

Her second child is a fifth-grader, and her third-born is in second grade. The youngest attends an ECD center in the same compound as the children’s school. Ricardo, the fifth-grader, has had a sponsor from Australia since 2007. 

Madalena helped cook and provided vegetables and bread for workers who were renovating the school recently. She also was happy to assume the responsibility of supervising quality control whenever the workers asked her to check the alignment of blocks and proper placement of ceilings.

She excitedly anticipated the end result: a comfortable learning space for the schoolchildren. Before, children endured leaking roofs, which disrupted their learning, as well as unsecured doors and windows, which allowed the entry of stray animals into classrooms. Madalena says that before starting classes in the morning, the children had to clean the classrooms and the land around the school, putting their health at risk and reducing learning time.

Positive Changes

But, today, with the help of parents, teachers and students, EBC Samutaben is more comfortable and has proper chairs and tables for the children. Teachers now have space to prepare their lesson plans and keep school records in a renovated faculty room. Madalena added that rehabilitated classrooms are not only good for students but for the entire community.

Still, the school has remaining challenges; animals continue to enter the school premises because there is no perimeter fence, and there’s no safe drinking water. Children also are at risk because the school is dangerously close to the community’s main road.

The PTA’s participation continues to be very important in improving the condition of the school, Madalena notes, and she hopes more parents will participate as time goes on.

Children Are the ‘Third Gender’

By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe – no matter where they live. This week’s theme focuses on preventing gender-based violence, which often starts with the most vulnerable – children.

Two years ago, I walked into Rapid City, S.D., airport and I saw my maternal grandma’s face that I love so much seemingly peering at me from these huge black-and-white photos of former Native American chiefs – it was the same bone structure, the same wide forehead and the same intensity of resilient stare. I remember smiling at the portraits with a nostalgic sense of love and recognition before hurrying to catch up with my ChildFund colleagues.

This year, I walk into the airport in Dakar, Senegal, and I see these sculpted, lean bronzed, dignified warrior-like bodies of my step-grandfather – my grandma’s husband – and I smile and ache with that same sense of instant love and recognition. I think to myself: our people of the Caribbean truly are the “melting pot,” influenced and built by so many races – Native Americans, African slaves, Indian and Syrian indentured laborers, Hispanics, French, English and Portuguese – all blending to make up my world, my genealogy and my heritage.

In South Dakota, we heard from our U.S ChildFund colleagues how teenagers in Native American communities were committing suicide at such a frequent rate that their parents were more consumed by mourning than cherishing their children who are still alive. Their recounting of these ongoing tragedies became unbearable to me when I learned that children as young as 5 years old were killing themselves for various reasons, including hopelessness and abuse and after witnessing it happening all around them to their siblings, extended relatives, schoolmates and community friends.

I left the U.S. not being able to internalize or envision the inner thoughts and external situations that would lead a young child to decide not to remain here with the rest of us.

liberation statue

Gelina later noticed  that the child representative is missing in the liberation statue. “Often the child does not get his or her share of the story unless given a voice by organizations like ours,” she notes.

I had shelved that discomfort until I walked into one of the first transatlantic slave houses in West Africa on Senegal’s Goree Island. Our guide took us to the statue honoring the first slave liberation in 1802 by the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and I was proud to know that we islanders had shown the first demonstration of humanity and common sense by abolishing slavery.

shackles and chains

The historic site is a witness to suffering.

The guide then took us to the slave holding compound – a preserved structure from centuries before and empty of the spirits of those once held in captivity. We went through the various rooms where men were weighed and measured for strength, where young virgins were holed in, where slaves were shoved into claustrophobic “time-out” 3-foot cells when being punished.

holding cell for child slaves

Gelina views the holding cell for “enfants.”

I treated the excursion as a historical exercise until we entered this dusky, elongated room where 30 or more children at a time were crunched together. In that instant, I had a flash vision of those children huddled in fear and cold, innocent and traumatized, trying their best not to cry aloud and barely able to breathe, with only two or three open slits in the wall facing the ocean for ventilation.

That was when my defenses went down, and I turned to the slit in the wall and remained silent and choked, hiding the tears from my colleagues. Every cowering, every tear, every thought of hopelessness I envisioned as experienced by these 30 children at a time had the face of my 6-year-old son stamped on their bodies. And I thought, no children of any ethnicity – be they Native American, African, Asian; the former slaves of Egypt to the the Oliver Twists of industrialized Europe; or those children today ensnared in the modern, underground slavery network of child abuse and trafficking should ever again die or have to live through that kind of inhumane experience.

Later that week as our ChildFund “Shine a Light” project team gathered to discuss gender-based violence and how to better integrate gender-based elements in our programming for children, I began musing that the “child” could be considered a third gender, like a third universal ethnic group.

When there is a rising situation of violence or a culture of violation and death, sadly, children are never exempt. Their misfortune and, often, their fatalities are unacceptable. The young child, still vulnerable and unable to take care of his or her basic needs or protect the self, the child still too innocent to distinguish cultural gender norms, the child who simply and for certain knows that she or he just wants to be safe and loved is the “third gender,” highly vulnerable to exploitation and requiring particular support and attention.

Children are gifts. They are assets, and that’s the cornerstone of ChildFund’s work. Their positive foundation as future ancestors of other generations is our daily fight.

Leaving Footprints on One Day Without Shoes

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund International writer

Last April, ChildFund workforce specialist Ann Latham-Anderson asked the children in her neighborhood an important question: If you didn’t have shoes, what would you miss most?

One Day Without Shoes

Ann Latham-Anderson’s winning feet.

Then she let them draw on her feet with magic markers, and her husband and daughter chipped in with drawings of children on her toes. The next day at work, she won our foot-decoration contest.  “It did take a while to get the ink off my feet,” Ann says with a laugh.

One Day Without Shoes, on April 16, is an engaging day at ChildFund’s international office in Richmond, with contests and music, but it also reminds us about the impact something simple like a pair of well-fitting shoes can have on children’s health, education and future opportunities.

In developed countries, “we have so many options of what kind of shoes to wear,” says Sadye-Ann Henry, a treasury assistant who won the pedicure contest last year. One activity, walking on rocks, showed Sadye-Ann “how tender our tootsies are” and a glimpse of the challenges the children we serve face every day.

Ann, Sadye-Ann and many more of us at ChildFund, including some of our national offices, are preparing to join in on One Day Without Shoes by going without shoes at the office. This event, started by TOMS Shoes six years ago, is meant to raise awareness about children’s education and health and how shoes play a role in helping create opportunities for a better future.

children's feet

Children in the countries ChildFund serves need shoes to stay healthy and attend school.

In many developing countries that ChildFund serves, children must have uniforms and shoes to attend school. Also, when children have only flip-flops or no shoes at all, they’re vulnerable to cuts, diseases and hookworm infection, which have long-term implications like stunted growth and compromised health.

Anyone can participate in One Day Without Shoes. Just kick off your shoes and join the rest of us in creating awareness of an important cause.

Voices of Children: What Gifts and Sponsorship Mean to Them

Reporting by ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia

Ever wonder how much gifts and sponsorships matter to children who live in extreme poverty? Staff members of ChildFund Liberia and ChildFund Zambia recently gathered some first-person reactions from children who have benefited from the generosity of sponsors and companies who donate goods through ChildFund’s gifts-in-kind program.

Liberian girl sitting beside tree

Jessica with her tote bag.

Jessica, age 12, of Liberia received a Life Is Good tote bag through ChildFund’s relationship with Good360, the nonprofit leader in product philanthropy.
“I attend the Christian Revival School in Konia, Zorzor District, Lofa County. I am in the fourth grade, and I am happy going to school. I carry my bag every morning to school. Other students who don’t have it call me ‘Life’s Good Girl.’ I like the bag … the drawing is funny. It is like a friend who helps to carry my books but never complains.

This is my first bag. Before I was given the bag, I used to carry my books and pencils in my hands. Because my hands were wet when my palms sweat, my books got spoiled. When the rain came, my books got very wet. When the road got dirty, my books got dirty.

Now I carry my school things and other things I don’t want people to see, like my lunch and any nice things. Before, if I was given new books, some bad boys would take them from me and run away. Now, nobody sees what I’ve got in my bag, and I don’t worry. Thank you for my bag!”

Liberian boys in T-shirts

Andrew and Jimmy now have more clothes.

Jimmy, 12, and Andrew, 8, of Liberia live in an orphanage and received clothes from Life Is Good.
“I feel very happy to receive the clothes, because they bring me here without enough clothes, and I pray that ChildFund will continue to help us every year. ‘Life Is Good’ is good for us,” Jimmy said. He was brought to this orphanage from another home for orphans that was closed due to lack of funding.

“I was brought with a pair of trousers and a shirt to this orphanage,” Jimmy continued. “I am very happy with my clothes. They make me look good.’’

“I am very happy,” Andrew said. “This is not my first time getting things from ChildFund. I got TOMS shoes. I was carrying slippers to school, and then ChildFund gave shoes to us.”

Asked what they would like to do in the future, the boys had ready answers: “I want to study so that I can work for ChildFund,” replied Jimmy. “I want to become president,” Andrew said.

Timothy, 11, of Zambia, loves writing to his sponsor.
“I live in Kalundu Compound, Kafue district. I am doing grade 6 at Kalundu Basic School. My favorite subject is mathematics. I like writing.

I have a sponsor and friend at ChildFund. Her name is Jeanette. This sponsor has helped me very much for four years. She sends me money every year for my birthday and for Christmas. I use this money to buy shoes and clothes.

Because of this sponsor, I have learned to write letters. I joined the writing club in my community, and I am happy and enjoy writing. Sometimes I write to myself because I like to improve my writing. I would like to see more sponsors come and start supporting other children like me here.”

Gift, 10, of Zambia, values education.
“I’m Gift, and I’m doing my fourth grade at school. My community is made up of about 300 families; most of these people are not employed. They depend on selling vegetables at the market, and others [sell] fish. Other families are farmers.

We have a school in our community where I go and a clinic where we go when we’re sick. A few other children and I are sponsored by ChildFund.

I have a vision that one day my community will become a big city with electricity and more schools. People will also go to school and start working instead of selling vegetables to earn money.”

Help Stop TB in Their Lifetime

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communications Specialist

Tuberculosis is rare today in the United States and other developed countries, but in developing nations, it is a killer. Globally, TB has created 10 million orphans and is one of the top-three causes of death in women ages 15 to 44.

Today, March 24, we mark World TB Day by joining with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and other international organizations to raise awareness and mobilize political and social commitment toward progress in the care and control of tuberculosis.

children in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has the world’s highest tuberculosis incidence and mortality rates by far.

Caused by an airborne bacteria, TB often attacks lungs and has developed strains that are resistant to multiple drug treatments. It also strikes people with weak immune systems, particularly those infected with HIV. In the 1800s, Western Europe saw the number of tuberculosis deaths peak at nearly 25 percent, but with better medical treatment and understanding, the TB mortality rate fell by 90 percent by the 1950s.

Now, as the virus mutates and resists standard drug therapies, developing nations are experiencing the same level of risk as Europe did a century ago. This year marks the second half of WHO’s two-year campaign Stop TB in My Lifetime, a program that is significant to countries ChildFund serves in Africa and Asia.

Globally, tuberculosis is second only to AIDS as the greatest killer from a single infectious agent. At least a third of HIV-infected patients worldwide are also diagnosed with TB, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, tuberculosis is often the infection that is directly responsible for death. In fact, testing positive for tuberculosis often masks HIV-positive status, which makes proper medical treatment far more difficult than for patients who have one disease or the other.

Ugandan girl holds memory book

In Uganda, TB and HIV infections are often combined, making treatment difficult. This child holds a memory book her HIV-positive parents created for her.

Despite the overall decline worldwide in incidences of TB and the development of rapid diagnostics, the combination of HIV and TB and its accompanying challenges have kept Africa from being on track to halve its tuberculosis deaths by 2015, a WHO goal.

WHO estimates that 500,000 children were newly infected in 2011, and 64,000 died. Tuberculosis is particularly difficult to diagnose in children; current TB tests are largely inaccurate for children.

Poor communities and vulnerable populations also suffer disproportionately from TB. At highest risk are young adults, infants, diabetics, smokers, those infected with HIV, people who are malnourished and anyone living in crowded or unclean conditions — such as refugees and others displaced by a natural disaster, political oppression or civil unrest.

Because TB threatens the well-being of children where we work, ChildFund supports local government initiatives and public messaging. Here are some facts about ChildFund-supported countries and their exposure to TB:

Sierra Leone has the world’s highest prevalence and mortality rates; tuberculosis incidence there is one and a half times as high as in the second-ranked country, and Sierra Leone’s mortality rate is almost twice as high.

mother and child in a Timor-Leste garden

Timor-Leste has the world’s eighth highest incidence rate of TB, but good nutrition can make families less vulnerable to infection.

Cambodia ranks fifth for prevalence and Timor-Leste eighth, but both countries tie for fifth-highest mortality rate because Cambodia has an edge in successful treatment.

Joining those three nations as very-high-incidence countries are The Gambia, Liberia, Mozambique, the Philippines and Zambia.

Areas of high prevalence include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam. Uganda, where TB and HIV infection forms a lethal combination, has a treatment success rate of only 71 percent.  Ethiopia and Guinea also have lower-than-average success rates: 83 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

The story isn’t entirely bleak, though. Some countries have made impressive progress. Between 1995 and 2011, 85 percent of all new infections and 69 percent of relapsing cases were successfully treated. And between 1990 and 2011, the overall mortality rate fell by 41 percent.

However, every year funding falls $3 billion short of WHO’s goal to make quality care accessible regardless of gender, age, type of disease, social setting or ability to pay. International assistance is especially critical for the 35 countries designated as low-income — including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Uganda. Of these, The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are not currently among the top 50 recipients of Official Development Assistance.

Please join us in taking action to end the burden of tuberculosis in the lifetimes of the children we serve. When you sponsor a child or make a donation to Children’s Greatest Needs, you’ll be helping to ensure that children in our programs live healthier lives.

World Water Day: Fátima’s Story

Reporting by ChildFund Mozambique

 To mark World Water Day on March 22, we’re focusing on the myriad challenges children and families face without a reliable source of clean water.

a girl drinks water from a cup

11-year-old Fátima.

My name is Fátima. I am 11 years old, I live in Gondola, Mozambique, and I attend Bela-Vista Primary School.

Formerly in my school there was no water source, which compelled us to walk long distances with a 20-liter container looking for water in other neighboring communities between 5 and 7 kilometers (3 to 4 miles) away from the school.

Consequently, our lavatories were unclean and classrooms floors were rarely mopped up, which exposed all of us to the risk of catching diseases related to poor hygiene.

Luckily, a water borehole has been dug on our school grounds by ChildFund, so now we are very happy because we do not need to walk long distances to access water anymore. Drinkable water can be obtained 7 to 10 meters (23 to 30 feet) away.

Our classrooms are not dusty anymore because we keep them neat, and our lavatories are always clean. We are less likely to catch diseases, as we now quench our thirst with treated water from the borehole.

women at a water pump

Fatima’s mother (in red coat) gets water at the pump.

This lady pictured in the red coat is my mother. She is pumping the water up here at my school for us to use at home. The beneficiaries of the water are not only schoolchildren but also the neighboring community.  We don’t need to walk long distances looking for water to drink, to cook, to wash our clothes and to give our animals to drink.

Were you inspired by today’s blog? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.

Progress in the City of the Water Wars

 By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

 Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia, made it into the news in 2000 for its “water wars.” Today, its communities still struggle for access to clean water, but ChildFund makes life a bit easier for residents by providing education and water purification systems. Today, as we mark World Water Day, we take a look at the situation in Cochabamba.

In the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, water is a scarce resource. The city is located in an extremely dry valley, where most of the scenery is dominated by desert and dusty roads with little greenery or vegetation.

Bolivian mother

Luisa, a mother of five, lives in Cochabamba, an area with a serious water shortage.

Luisa is a mother of five children, ages 11 years to 7 months. She and her husband, Zenón, arrived in Cochabamba a few years ago with many other migrants from Bolivia’s rural areas when the country’s main mining company closed and left thousands of people unemployed.

 The family settled in a marginal area of Cochabamba, where no electricity, paved roads or water services are available.

Bolivia landscape

Cochabamba is a dry region in central Bolivia.

The water problem in Bolivia is not new. In fact, Cochabamba’s water wars made news in 2000 after protests over water prices erupted into violence. The conflict inspired several movies and documentaries. Today, more than a decade later, Bolivia continues to suffer from South America’s lowest water coverage levels, as well as low quality of services, especially in terms of sanitation.

ChildFund Bolivia works in the most vulnerable and deprived areas of Cochabamba through local partner Obispo Anaya to help families gain access to purified water, educating them about water-usage techniques and improving hygiene and sanitation systems to avoid the spread of diseases that include diarrhea, chagas disease (a parasitic infection), respiratory and skin infections.

Luisa has worked as a community leader with ChildFund Bolivia’s local partner for the past seven years, and one of her family’s main concerns is water. Having to buy water has always been an additional expense that was eating up a big portion of their small monthly budget. Her family still has to buy water, but the expense is lower thanks to ChildFund’s efforts.

mother and daughter

Luisa and her 10-year-old daughter Maria Elena get clean water.

At the ChildFund-supported community center, families receive training on how to use a simple water purification system, which requires only sunlight and plastic bottles to kill germs, viruses and bacteria that can be present in water.

“We don’t need to buy bottled water anymore or boil it,” Luisa says. “We used to spend much more money for water. We still have to buy it from the water truck, but we spend less.” The family still buys two to three tanks full of water a week, which is approximately 15 bolivianos (US$2), half of what Zenón makes in one day of work.

Now Luisa trains other mothers in her community about proper usage of water purification systems. Her children are also healthier: Baby Tania is growing much stronger, as well as her brother Jonas, who is 3. Luisa’s three older children attend school and have healed from the skin infections that they used to get before the family began using the water purification system.

ChildFund’s program has helped me in many ways… to take better care of my children,” Luisa says. “They have taught us how to better clean our house and avoid diseases, and how to use water better and wash our hands, and I can see the difference, as my little babies don’t get sick anymore, as the elders did.”

Were you inspired by today’s blog post? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.

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